Lawn House

In 1808, shipbuilders Thomas Pitcher and William Wallis purchased a piece of land at the eastern end of the City Canal and created a shipbuilding yard. Later, after Pitcher had bought Wallis’s share of the yard, it was named the Canal Dockyard (or Shipyard).

Around 1813, Pitcher built a terrace of six houses for some of his senior employees on land opposite the dockyard belonging to the City Canal owners, the City of London Corporation. These houses were on the site of the later Glen Terrace houses in Manchester Rd (although the road was called East Ferry Rd at the time – Manchester Rd did not exist yet).

North of Canal Row – as the terrace was named – Pitcher also built a large detached house for himself. It is highlighted in the following 1830s map:

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The house had a large decorative garden, which extended south at the rear of Canal Row (which had been demolished for road-widening purposes by the time this 1880s map was created):

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On a satellite photo:

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Survey of London (Athlone Press):

No contemporary illustrations of the house are known. Later engravings and photographs show a brick building of two main storeys, and an attic storey contained within a slated mansard roof. In photographs the parapet and narrow bandcourse between the ground and first storeys, being apparently of stone, stand out against the darker brickwork of the walls. On the first floor the windows were set within shallow recessed arches. The dominating feature of the exterior, however, was the four tall chimney-stacks. The south front overlooked gardens and pleasure grounds which extended southwards behind the backs of the houses in Canal Row.

The Pitcher family occupied the house until the late 1840s. In 1848 it was described as ‘a spacious and very commodious modern Residence, adapted for a proprietor, acting manager or officers, with lawns and gardens stocked with fruit trees, coach house, stables, offices and yards’. But the purchasers of Pitcher’s yard, J. & F. Somes, evidently had no use for it and in 1853 they presented the house, rent-free, to the Sailors’ Home Institution, a newly formed organization set up to establish moderately priced yet comfortable board-and-lodging houses for seamen ‘of all types’.

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1854, after becoming Poplar Seaman’s Home

The same view in 2014

The same view in 2014

The home had room for 100 beds and included a dining room, refreshments room and reading room. It was not a success, however, and within 3 or 4 years it closed. It was renamed Lawn House and let as a private home to ship broker and owner, William Arrowsmith. Survey of Britain again:

In 1868 he surrendered his lease to the freeholder, the East and West India Dock Company, which in 1870 converted the house into two separate residences for its Principal Engineer and his foreman. In 1891 the occupants were both dockmasters.

After being seriously damaged by WWII bombing during the Blitz, Lawn House was demolished in 1941. Incredibly – to me at least – there are no known existing photos of what was for a long time possibly the grandest houses on the Island, and one that was a prominent landmark, located next to the West India Docks entrance lock. But if you look closely enough at pre-WWII aerial photos, you can get just get a glimpse.

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The house is also remembered in the naming of a short street off the eastern end of Marsh Wall.

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3 Responses to Lawn House

  1. Pingback: Glen Terrace | Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives

  2. I’ve been looking through some old family photos and have found one of relevance to this page.

    My great-grandfather Edward William Hill was deputy dockmaster between at least 1911 and 1923, and I believe he and his large family, including my grandmother, lived in one half of Lawn House for the latter part of that period. The 1922 electoral roll gives their address as “617 Manchester Road”. The next entry in the register is for Albert and Mary Steer at “Dockmaster’s House” (no number) so I assume Albert Steer was chief Dockmaster at the time. My father has inherited some photos of the Hill family in the garden of Lawn House and on the dockside between 1915 and 1923, some including the Steers’ children too.

    There is one photo of the house itself from the south aspect, I believe taken around 1920, which you can find here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0kk-S6iy44fOGx6alQzTEJWY0k/view?usp=sharing – feel free to download and use on this page if you want to. At first glance, it doesn’t look large enough to be the Lawn House described here, but it does match exactly with the aerial photos that you have, with the three large window recesses, the light-coloured stone bands, and the covered porch area to the right-hand side, which I can just make out in the first aerial photo. Maybe the 1854 drawing makes it look slightly grander than it was, or it had been altered somewhat by the 20th century.

    Thank you for sharing your own research on the house and the area. It’s nice to build up a picture of my grandmother’s childhood that I otherwise would have known very little about.

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